That was not just a win for me and my team . It was a win for every single person that donated , prayed , called , and texted . To be given an opportunity to do this and race at this level is once-in-a-lifetime .”
Just weeks later , Barnett made it twice-in-a-lifetime . After Gray won in Bristol at the following race , the pair of standout rookies seemed destined to be on a collision course to close out the year .
After qualifying fifth , and with the turbo combination proving its worth in a field filled with ProChargers and roots blowers , Barnett had a chance to make an impressive statement to close out the 2021 Pro Mod season . He went 5.798 with a . 012 reaction time to beat Bond in the opening round , going 5.823 a round later . He made a clean run of 5.813 on a bye run in the semifinals , setting up a marquee matchup with Gray .
For Barnett , this chance at redemption dated back to the opener in Gainesville when Gray beat him on a holeshot in the second round in the debut race for both drivers . It ’ s a round Barnett replayed a thousand times in his head and each time it irked him more and more .
Gray had his own fascinating story , returning from a mid-season crash in his rookie year to beat 2021 Pro Mod world champ Jose Gonzalez in the final round at Bristol . But Barnett wanted this final round and he answered the bell , posting a reaction time of . 011 , earning the win with a run of 5.814 at 253.56 to Gray ’ s 5.796 at 248.66 . In short , it was the perfect finish to a standout rookie season .
“ He beat me in Gainesville , I beat him at Dallas and in the final round of the final race of the year , the two rookies square up ,” Barnett says . “ Justin and my whole crew just did a fantastic job keeping my hot rod ready and we won the final race of the year on another holeshot . So I guess that was a common thing that was said all year long , that we kept winning on holeshots .
“ But my crew [ which includes Elkes , Anthony Lum , Mark Barnett , Ben Staas , Mike Earle and Johnny Maguda ] gave me a race car that could run with those guys ,” Barnett adds . “ All the credit goes to those guys for giving me something that was competitive , and I told them , ‘ Y ’ all give me a car that can compete , and we ’ re going to win .’ I couldn ’ t ask for anything better and some good morale in the shop headed into 2022 .”
Barnett called it a thrilling end to this chapter , with a thank-you list that includes the likes of his father , Elkes , Freeman , Elite Motorsports , car owners Jim , Jake and Clint Hairston , MAC-FAB Beadlocks , Motion Raceworks , PeeDee Fleet , Billet Atomizer , VP Racing Fuels , Wilson Manifolds , Precision Turbo , Ferry Farms , JJ Supply of NC , HED , Customs by BIGUN , Mag Gaugh and Tommy Kirk . But it ’ s a book that ’ s also just getting started . His journey started years ago as Barnett successfully made his way through the ranks in the radial world , but everything changed during his wreck at Lights Out 6 .
The devastating crash resulted in third-degree burns that covered 15 percent of his body and nearly cost him his life . He became an inspiration for many as he made a triumphant return to the sport two years later , winning at Lights Out 8 in Digby ’ s single-turbo ’ 69 Dodge Dart .
Barnett has taken it a step further this year , feeling like NHRA Pro Mod was the next logical step to move up the ladder in his racing career . It also further emphasized his drive and willingness to battle back from adversity . The crash and fire hasn ’ t defined him , and as 2021 proved , it ’ s what he ’ s done since then that has .
“ When I laid in that hospital bed in 2015 when my dad asked me if I
BARNETT CREDITED HIS SUPPORT STAFF FOR HIS SUCCESS , A GROUP THAT STARTS WITH HIS WIFE , MELISSA , AND ALSO INCLUDES THE REST OF HIS FAMILY .
84 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 173